Grace-on-the-Hill, an Episcopal Service Corps program, is an intentional Christian community located adjacent to St. Andrew’s in the historic Oregon Hill neighborhood of Richmond. Grounded in the sharing of common meals and prayer time, in service in the community, and living by a Rule of Life, six young adults spend 10 months together delving deeper into their faith and into God’s call for their lives.
Lissie Baker, David Gorman, Paige Trivett, Hannah Roberts, Bernadette Aylward and Patrick Keyser spend 30 hours a week at their respective worksites, which include the diocesan office of Mission and Outreach, Blue Sky Fund, St. Andrew’s Church and School, and Anna Julie Cooper Middle School. When they aren’t working, attending events
at St. Andrew’s, delving into Christian formation with co-directors Paris Ball and the Rev. Abbott Bailey, or spending time in outreach, they can be found cultivating their own community through laughter and a shared experience.
How have humor and laughter brought you together as a community?
Hannah Roberts: We laugh a lot. I think David was the first one to really start cracking jokes. It was a way that we all kind of bonded, and it’s been something that has kind of sustained us as a house.
David Gorman: One of my favorite things about coming home is telling funny stories about our days around the dinner table. Some of us work with kids, so there are always a lot of fun stories to tell.
Paige Trivett: I think laughter has been a very necessary part of our community. A lot of times, especially at the end of the year, it was one of the ways that we got to know each other. A lot of our early perceptions of each other were based on our senses of humor. We learned a lot about each other’s likes and dislikes through that as well.
What do you guys look forward to most about coming home every day?
Lissie Baker: When I applied to Grace-on-the-Hill, there was some trepidation. I thought, “I’m moving in with five strangers. Is this a dumb idea?” But thankfully, they were five strangers who were interested in doing similar work and in living intentionally. So I know that when I come home it’s going to be clean, it’s going to be calm.
HR: My favorite thing about coming home is that I’m usually one of the last people to get off of work, and I love to see who is going to be sitting on the front porch when I walk up. Like, “Who’s going to be sitting on the porch reading?” And catching up and chatting about our day on the front porch.
Bernadette Aylward: There’s always a lot of joy here. We definitely have a different lifestyle than a lot of people, and we’re missing out on some things because of that, but I think we gain so much in each other. That’s great to come home to.
PT: I like that there’s no children here. I work with children, often more than eight hours a day, and it’s nice to have people around you that understand logic and reasoning and cooperation. Because sometimes kids don’t understand those things.
David Gorman: We actually love kids, by the way. Let the record show that we genuinely enjoy working with children!
What’s a way that you have experienced God this year that you didn’t expect?
HR: For me, singing in the choir at St. Andrew’s was a total shock. And it’s been a really spiritual experience for me, especially during the bigger feast days when we would do more complicated pieces. Sometimes I would think, “Whoa, God is definitely moving in these voices right now.”
LB: I’ve been really struck by the community that is placed around us: St. Andrew’s Church; our mentors, Abbott and Paris; our co-workers. I’ve had close-knit faith communities in my life before, especially growing up and going to Shrine Mont, but it’s been really cool to see that kind of community develop around you as an adult, to have all these people who are invested and interested in you, and would do anything to help you succeed. I anticipated that people would be supportive, but the community has gone above and beyond my expectations.
PT: This has been very eye-opening, working at Blue Sky Fund. I thought going in, “Yeah, it will be cool to be outside all the time, and gain some hard skills that I didn’t have, and maybe meet some cool kids along the way.” But I now feel God calling me to stay in Richmond and stay connected to the youth here, to be a consistent presence in their lives. It would be a privilege to watch these kids, my students in particular, grow. Hopefully I can stick around to see them become leaders in the city.
What is the Rule of Life and how did you write it?
PT: The Rule of Life is a concrete framework that allows us to divide commitment equally, and also to provide equal support for one another.
Patrick Keyser: After we did a little bit of reflecting using the resources from Society of St. John the Evangelist, we started to identify our priorities in terms of how we wanted to pray, and organize the times that we ate together, and all aspects of the way that our life as a community functions. But again, “rule” sounds so negative to me, but it’s really just creating a barrier in which your life is able to freely move but not become so loose that it loses its form. So it’s not at all restrictive, but it’s more of a guide to lead us where we want to go.
BA: I like the word “priorities.” There are so many different things that you can spend your time doing, different things that can draw your attention. The rule is a way that we have chosen to focus that attention and energy. So we have goals and rules that we set for ourselves and try to live up to, to make sure that we are spending time in prayer, that we’re spending time with each other, that we’re engaging with the neighborhood, because we said that these were things that were important to us. This is a much bigger commitment, and it allows us to spend a lot of quality time together and to grow in our relationships.
HR: I think it’s what makes us an intentional community rather than six people who live together. It defines the parameters of the community. It defines how we’re going to spend our time.
LB: In the exact same vein, I’ve lived with people who I love, but in retrospect I wish that I had been able to ask for these kinds of commitments from people I’ve lived with in the past. The Rule of Live creates boundaries in which we can take good care of ourselves, take good care of each other, take good care of the house, and it makes living here really wonderful.